A blood clot can spell trouble for the circulatory system, as it can travel throughout different parts of the body. A pulmonary embolism occurs when a clot reaches the lungs — a life-threatening disease if not treated immediately.
Learn more about pulmonary embolism, particularly its causes, symptoms, risks, and prevention.
What Is Pulmonary Embolism?
Pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when a clot or blockage makes its way to the pulmonary arteries, which are arteries located in the lungs. The pulmonary artery transports oxygen-poor (deoxygenated) blood from the heart to the lungs, where it becomes oxygen-rich (oxygenated) blood ready for use.
When a blood clot forms, blood thickens and forms a mass that blocks the veins. Once a clot causes pulmonary embolism, it can greatly impair the function of the lungs to make oxygenated blood.
PE can be life-threatening especially if several clots have blocked the pulmonary arteries or if a particular clot is large. PE can also cause the following:
- Damage to the lungs may be permanent.
- Low oxygen levels in the blood or hypoxemia (in severe cases, this can affect brain and heart function).
- Organ failure or damage from lack of oxygen in the blood.
Most cases of PE result from a clot formed in the deep veins located in the lower extremities. This condition is known as “Deep Vein Thrombosis” (DVT). Clots formed in the deep veins of the leg, calf, or thigh may travel to the arteries of the lungs through the bloodstream.